Car Batteries 101 – Everything You Need to Know

Car batteries are the lifeline of the vehicle. These unassuming, small little boxes are the key to starting your vehicle every time you need to go somewhere. Just like your morning cup of coffee provides you with a jolt of electricity every day, it is your car battery that provides your vehicle with the juice it needs to spring into action.

Understanding the basics of how car batteries work will help ensure that you are never stranded with a dead one! Here are some of the most important things you need to know about your car’s battery and electrical system.

Car Battery

How Car Batteries Work

Car batteries come in a few different sizes and are either side terminals or top terminals, depending on where under the hood they are designed to go. Housed in a rectangular, heavy-duty, plastic box, it is the car battery that provides the electricity that powers all of the electrical components in your car or truck.

When you start your vehicle, a chemical reaction takes place as the battery turns chemical energy into electrical energy, which delivers voltage to the vehicle’s starter. This is why, when your car won’t start, it’s usually a problem with a dead battery or a failing starter.

Once the car is started, the battery has the important role of stabilizing the flow of electricity, ensuring the electrical system receives a constant supply of energy (voltage). Without something to stabilize all of that power, the electrical system would be overrun and fail quickly.

How Long Car Batteries Last

Car batteries are typically good for 3-5 years, depending on your driving habits and the weather conditions where you live. Once a battery reaches the three-year mark, we recommend you check your battery life at least once a year going forward. This will help you catch a dying battery before it is a dead battery. At Searles Auto Repair, we test the life of your battery for you each time you bring your vehicle in. Our simple diagnostics test gives us a rough idea of how much longer your battery will last.

Car batteries are constantly being recharged when your car is running, which is why, when you have to jumpstart your vehicle, or receive a boost with cables, you’re always instructed to take the car for a long drive afterward, which allows the battery to charge back up. This places extra stress on the alternator, can cause premature alternator failure and is not recommended. Ideally, you should take your car to Searle’s Auto Repair for recharge or recharge the battery overnight with a trickle charger. If your lifestyle sees you making frequent trips, all less than 20 minutes each, your battery is less able to recharge fully, which may hamper how many years you get out of it.

Symptoms of a Dying Battery

Unlike a light bulb that just burns out without warning, an aging battery usually provides you with some warning signs that it is about to die.

  • Is your vehicle’s engine hesitating to start? If the vehicle doesn’t turn over as quickly as it used to, it could mean a dying battery.
  • If the check engine light is on, this may be another sign your battery is on its way out (but not always!). Depending on the make and model of your vehicle, you might also have a digital readout that displays this info as a percentage.
  • If you have your suspicions, take a look and see for yourself through the battery’s opaque casing. If the fluid level has fallen below the interior energy conductor, this is a sign of a weak battery, which is usually a sign of age, or overcharging/overheating.
  • If the battery case looks to be disfigured (no longer a perfect rectangular box), something is likely not right with the battery, and you are simply running your vehicle on borrowed time.
  • Notice any strange smells? A sulfur odour, that people often describe as rotten eggs, is an indicator of a battery leak. This leak will also be evident by way of corroded battery posts. Try cleaning up the posts to see if that solves the problem, and then take your vehicle in to an auto mechanic for a new battery.
  • If you’ve bought a used vehicle and want to know how old the battery is, check the code on the cover of your battery case. This is a 4-5 digit code, with the first two digits revealing everything you need to know. The first digit being a letter indicating a month. A is for January, B is for February, etc., and the following number indicates the year the battery the battery was shipped from the factory to the dealership or local auto parts store.

Vehicle Engine Light

Car Won’t Start?

We all know that feeling of walking out of a restaurant or movie theatre, only to find that we’ve left our headlights on for a few hours. It’s even worse when we approach the car in the morning and find the interior light has been on all night.

In these cases, there is a 50/50 chance the car battery has died and the car won’t start. Here’s how you can tell if you have a dead battery and not some other problem:

  • If you turn the key in the ignition and you hear the car coughing and turning over, then a dead battery is NOT the problem.
  • If you turn the key in the ignition and you hear absolutely nothing, or you hear only a clicking sound, then there’s a good chance you have a dead battery on your hands.
  • Check whether your lights, stereo and other electronics are working. If they’re struggling or non-existent, this is a good indicator of a low or dead battery.

At this point, you can either find a ride to an auto parts store to pick up a new battery, charge the battery yourself with a portable charger, try and jumpstart the vehicle, or boost the vehicle with jumper cables. You’ll also need to seriously consider replacing the battery all together, taking in all of the above advice into account.

Batteries are relatively inexpensive to replace, which is just one reason we recommend taking care of a struggling battery sooner than later. If they are left for too long, weakened batteries can begin to cause larger problems in the electrical system, as other parts of the system, such as the alternator, will be forced to work harder to make up for the battery’s shortcomings. This results in a larger headache and bigger bills in the long run.

At Searles Auto Repair, we make it our mission to ensure our customers are never stranded on the road, and that includes providing battery testing for our customers during every oil service visit. An electrical system check performed by the auto mechanics are Searles can test to see if all parts of the electrical system are drawing the right amount of voltage. If you see the signs of a weak battery, don’t hesitate to come in and get things looked over. Book an appointment online, or simply drop by some time at 517 Kelvin in Victoria BC!

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